US, DRC, Zambia ink MoU for cobalt, copper mining

The US, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cobalt and copper mining and processing for Electric Vehicle batteries.

The MoU signing ceremony which took during Africa Leaders Summit, entrusted DRC and Zambia to work on a value chain that covers mining all the way to assembly. DRC currently holds a majority of the world’s cobalt reserves at around 70% with Zambia coming in second in Africa.

Copper and Cobalt in Electric Vehicle batteries

Copper is what is used to move electricity or electrical signals from a source to a destination. And so it plays a very crucial role in electric vehicles which are powered purely by electricity. It’s also the fundamental element in the motors that drive the wheels and move an electric vehicle. The average internal combustion engine vehicle uses about 23 kg of copper versus about 83 kg in a similar-sized battery electric vehicle. That is 3.6x more copper which will roughly translate to the car industry requiring 3.6x more copper for the switch to electric vehicles.

The battery’s performance is also dependent on its chemical makeup of it or which materials are used. The idea is we want a battery that supplies a lot of power and also provides enough capacity for a great range between charges. This also needs to be done safely, especially when recharging the battery using fast chargers. Generally, batteries tend to heat up when they are being charged and the faster we charge them the hotter they become. So for a while, EVs were charging at a pace where it took between 8 and 12 hours to charge from zero to full. Nowadays it takes about 25 minutes to fully charge some EVs from zero.

To ensure the battery does not overheat whilst being fed with over 250KW of power, cobalt was employed in the battery’s chemistry. It acts as a stabilizer when batteries are operating close to or at their limits to ensure that energy transfer in and out of the battery is done whilst keeping the temperatures relatively cool.

This factor also means that less active cooling is needed on the battery which further extends the battery life and consequently driving range compared to a battery of the same capacity that does not use Cobalt. The MOU also states that the EV battery value chain should employ ethical standards, a topic of contention when it comes to cobalt. The mining of this mineral is strongly associated with child labor issues in the DRC which is something the US wants to be wary of. The projects will be operational within Africa while also having the private sector invited to participate in each step of this venture.


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